Recently on July 26, in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the capital Ankara during his tightly packed four-day official visit to Turkey Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad touched on bilateral issues along with the Rohingya crisis, the Palestinian cause and the situation of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan, the area otherwise known as China’s Xinjiang province.
Regarding the Palestinian issue, he said that although the land was just taken and given to Israel without any consideration for the thinking and feelings of the people at that time living in Palestine by the United Nations in November 1947, it is now an established fact that there is a state of Israel, at the very least, it should allow the previous Palestinian population to go back to reclaim their property. Or at the very least, to have two different states and to stop Israel from building settlements in the Palestinian territory. This is what we want the thing should be done.
He suggested that Turkey and Malaysia to keep the Palestinian problem and its clear truth alive as not enough airing time in the media and TV were given.
He believed that the main cause of terrorism stems from Israel-Palestine issue, with the creation of Israel in illegal way.
“And if we know, beside this, the causes for terrorism, and we treat them, we take action to stop this injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians, I think there will be less terrorism or no terrorism all over the world,” to make his point.
On Xinjaing’s Uyghur Muslims, Mahathir said: “We should tell China that please treat these people as citizens. The fact that they have a different religion should not influence the treatment towards them. Malaysia, for example, is a multi-religious country, but all religions are treated on the same basis.”
Concerning Myanmar’s Rohingya his concept or position is straight forward. He said: “Malaysia generally does not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. But in this case, massacre or genocide is involved and Malaysia is against genocide, and against the unfair treatment of the citizens of Myanmar, of different race. So, we need to settle this by recognizing that the Rohingya are also citizens of Myanmar. Myanmar, of course, at one time was made up of many different states. But the British decided to rule Myanmar as one state and because of that many of the tribes included in the state of Burma. But now of course, they should either be treated as nationals, or they should be given their territory to form their own state.”
While the Uyghur Muslims’ plight will continue with no plausible solution in sight as the Chinese authorities are committed to radically change their way of spiritual and cultural lives according to Communist Party of China’s prescription, the way Tibet has now been handled, there is little hope for now that the two oppressed peoples rights of self-determination will be addressed.
The Israel-Palestine issue will also drag on for years to come, with the Palestinian mostly bearing the brunt of the conflict, until a more accommodating leadership emerges in Israel.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya problem that has thrust into the world headlines in 2017, with the forced eviction of some 700,000 Rohingya, having endured all sorts of human rights violations, that have taken refuge in Bangladesh. In addition, more than a million refugees have already been there earlier, following separate crackdowns by the Myanmar military in several so-called clearance operations over the years, which were seen as forced relocation or population transfer.
The Rohingya that are not accepted either by the Myanmar, also known as Burma, or Bangladesh is fast becoming the Palestinian of the Southeast Asia, which according to the United Nations is the most persecuted people on earth.
Several conceptual solutions have been in the air, including safe haven protected by the United Nations or international neutral enforcer countries to giving the portion of Rohingya populated areas to Bangladesh to administer which is adjacent to it.
But what Mahathir suggested that the Rohingya be recognized as fully fledged citizen or be given a state of their own are a sort of challenge that the Myanmar government should ponder on from the moral and ethical point of view.
Squabbling over whether the Rohingya were already there in 1824 when the British colonized lower Burma in order to consider citizenship issue according to the 1982 citizenship law, the controversial issue that Rohingya label is a politically charged new creation identity tag and cannot be accepted to the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing’s statement that he is trying to finish the unfinished historical job of chasing out the illegal immigrants, that have been there only after the British took them to Burma during colonial days and so on won’t be conducive to resolve the problem.
Besides, with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army already in existence, militarily poorly equipped and weak as it may be, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is strongly behind the rights of the Rohingya. And as such, the suggestion of Mahathir to preempt the terrorism spread should be heeded by going to the root cause of the conflict. Moreover, the international community, including the United Nations, wanted to resolve the problem in a peaceful way, seen from resolutions after resolutions pressuring Myanmar government to take the refugees back.
In a nutshell, the demand for the Rohingya to be given national citizenship rights and allowing the refugees to come back to their homesteads, with international help and protection, will be the only venue that will be workable and achieve a win-win outcome.
But if the powers that be in Naypyitaw will only come up with half-heated solution and treated the refugees as illegal immigrants that came in only after 1824, no solution can be found. Come to think about it, if a couple of years unbroken stay in a country can be eligible to be naturalized and become citizens in many countries, more than a hundred years of settlement can’t be a problem to be citizens of a country.
Other than that, arguing over what a group of people can be and cannot be called is for no one to decide in normal circumstances but the concerned group’s human rights. Thus, whether Rohingya is a new name or an old one doesn’t become an issue. It should have the rights to be called as the group concerned decides.
The solution is actually in sight. Only Naypyitaw needs to take the initiative, as Mahathir rightly pointed out conceptually and practically.